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Flushing Your Tax Dollars Down The Drain

Yesterday, two Republican Senators released a report showing that $87 billion could be cut from the federal budget if Inspector General reports were taken more seriously by federal agencies.

Via McClatchy, some highlights from Senators Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin:

Among the ignored recommendations are 2,000 for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to its inspector general – including some that had not been implemented for up to 15 years.

The Pentagon inspector general reported that the Department of Defense could save $33 billion if it heeded all recommendations, the report said.

“The numbers show that the Executive Branch would likely improve the effectiveness of its operations – and save taxpayer money – by implementing recommendations made by the IG community,” the report said.

The report, which was based on the responses of 72 inspectors general, said eight inspectors general are stymied by their agencies who refuse to give them the documents they request for audits or investigations.

This should surprise nobody. In 2012, then-Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released a report examining $70 billion out of about $700 billion in federal grants and other spending he said was appropriated but left unspent. From my interview with Coburn at the time:

Senator Coburn: I can’t tell you the full amount, but I can tell you that money from the 1996 Olympics is still locked in, for example. And that was 16 years ago.

The importance of this report is that it highlights just how bad oversight and accountability are in Washington. For example, $7.5 billion in earmark transportation funding that is never going to be spent has been appropriated. It shows the incompetence of Congress, the incompetence of the process, and the incompetence of the bureaucracy. The federal government is so big it doesn’t know what it’s doing. People may have right intentions, but we’re incompetent because it’s so big.

Coburn also brought duplication in the budget, which he said could save at least $200 billion annually if eliminated, into the limelight during his time as Senator.

Earlier this year, I examined how the federal government’s official estimate of $136 billion lost to “improper payments” almost certainly undercounts the total. And the federal government’s health care and Pentagon spending is vastly oversized, thanks to incompetence and a blind eye to reforms.

Clearly, the federal government needs to keep a better eye on taxpayer resources. This level of incompetence ought to be criminal.

This leads to an important question, however: Is it even possible to properly oversee trillions of dollars in scores of separate programs, many of which have sub-programs? I agree with Coburn; the answer is no.

It’s long past time for Democrats and Republicans to stand up for taxpayers by slashing the federal budget itself — by reforming health care spending, eliminating corporate welfare, reforming food stamps and other programs for the poor, and making sure the Department of Defense’s budget serves the public instead of contractors.

Only a smaller government can be truly transparent, and effectively held accountable. Until then, reports like Johnson’s and Grassley’s, and the “Federal Fumbles” report by Senator James Lankford (R-OK), will gain headlines…but do little else.


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